Nina Persson at Scala
It’s been over a decade since Swedish pop group The Cardigans – after platinum successes and a fan base that boomed to Japan and beyond – took a break from working together. It’s been Nina Persson, the green-eyed frontwoman with the bittersweet vocal range, who has shown the most hunger for fresh experimentation. Persson collaborated with the late Sparklehorse on his album It’s a Wonderful Life, from which he offered to produce the self-titled album for Persson’s group. A Camp was heavy with Sparklehorse’s influence – sweet harmonica accompaniments and melancholia. She’s always benefited from collaboration, but now that Persson’s career is truly solo, it’s all about the voice.
Fortunately, Personn’s vocals have developed in sophistication, as has her image. It’s a long way from the 90s, when Persson was a baby blonde in double denim. Sweeping onto the stage at North London’s Scala, her ballet-dancer’s frame is shrouded in a black silk cape and an eccentric fascinator, which looks a bit like a shrunken mortarboard is perched atop her bun. In her clothing Persson is channelling an 80s wild child songstress, with a commanding collegiate edge. Her voice is deeper, less sugar-sweet than her Cardigans days, and it engulfs the whole audience in its clutches when she sings Animal Heart. But there is something lacking in this love ballad. It’s got the kind of melodramatic lyrics that The Cardigans used, but lacking their infectious clash between the lyrical fragility of Personn’s and the gusto of the heavy-metal trained backing musicians. For anyone who has ever asked “what would Losing My Favourite Game or Love Fool have been without those fierce guitar riffs?”, Animal Heart is the answer. Both this song and Frequent Flyer are schmaltzy, with nothing of The Cardigans’ dark magnetism.
But with Catch Me Crying, Persson and her band warm up – a guitar riff, sweet as a music-box tinkle, overlays the hate-filled lyrics: “you’ll never catch me crying for you.”This track reveals Persson as a still adept songwriting talent. She designed a catchy chorus, with unexpected wavers into minor key.
The band leave the stage and re-enter for the encore, and Persson does a good act of flattered surprise when she’s called back. But she’s well prepared, launching into an uninspiring Daniel Johnston cover. This is improved upon greatly with a cover of When You’re a Boy, which she performs with a depth and force that issues unaccountable from her waif-like frame. Her flawless, enthusiastic backing band warm up to this, with vocals, energetic drum-work, interesting synth effects. Then “this one’s just for the girls” says Persson, and the band leave the stage but for the female keyboardist. The track This Is Heavy Metal, is not heavy metal at all – it’s a swooping music hall ballad, bluesy and emotive. Those longing for the synthy drive-music of The Cardigans’ heyday won’t fall in love with these power ballads, but others will welcome her as a distinctive addition to the plethora of songstress stars shooting into the charts.
Photos: Simona Dalla Valle
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